Comedies aren’t supposed to be over two hours long. Then again, Judd Apatow is a very ambitious guy. He likes to let his camera run long, and he doesn’t shut it off until he feels like he’s ready to shut it off. “This Is 40,” which clearly comes from a very personal place, at first made me want to check my watch. However, once the credits began to roll, I realized that I wouldn’t have minded if it ran a little longer.
“This is 40″ is a “sort-of sequel” to “Knocked Up.” It would be better labeled as a spinoff, a title which is usually reserved for television. It takes the struggling married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their two daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and puts them into their own little world. Pete desperately finds ways to escape. He’s given up on his fantasy baseball league and seems more content sitting on the toilet with his iPad. Debbie, meanwhile, is fed up with feeling under appreciated and keeping everything together on her own. Naturally, this causes some problems.
Yet, despite all their problems, what makes “This Is 40″ unique is that I never doubted for one second that Pete and Debbie weren’t right for each other. “This is 40″ is more about unfortunate speed bumps than the absolute deterioration of a marriage. It takes place on the week that Debbie turns 38 (although everyone treats her like she’s 40) and Pete turns 40. This begins what many in Hollywood would call a midlife crisis.
I never found “This Is 40″ to be a film about people drifting apart. Rather, its about two people who want to be closer together finding ways to get closer together. “This is 40″ is about the modern family struggling to grow and remain close in a very wired world of cell phones and tablets. It’s the same thing that “Modern Family” tries to do, except “This is 40″ doesn’t have Ed O’Neill repeatedly telling us how much he loves his family. I have not reached the age of 40 yet, but I can tell that “This is 40″ comes from a very real place. It has absolutely no problem showing us the bad as well as the good.
While “This Is 40″ is not my favorite Judd Apatow film, it is definitely his most mature, and his most lovely made to date. Yet, maturity does not mean that he eschews vulgarity. It has a hefty load of what I like to call “butt stuff.” One scene that has been frequently discussed is one in which Debbie is forced to look at Pete’s butt because he thinks there’s a problem. It’s a scene that shows both the sparks of a marriage that has faded away and the unconditional love that remains. There is also a less talked about scene where Pete lets one rip. The moment was unscripted. It’s hilarious and it’s a fine example of the loose and spontaneous feeling of the film.
Often, “This Is 40″ feels less like a story and more like life unfolding before our eyes. It is one of the more unconventional mainstream comedies you’ll see nowadays. It refuses to settle for the usual plot beats, and it doesn’t try and immediately ruin happy moments with sad ones. Judd has a great talent for knowing when to be funny and when to be sad at just the right times. It was something he tried to do in “Funny People,” but had much less success with. You can tell that someone has become confident in their comedic abilities when they know that it is okay to go for an extended period of time without a laugh.
Even if SAG didn’t recognize it, “This Is 40″ has one of the best ensembles of the year. Every cast member participates in what I would like to call “confessional acting.” As Pete and Debbie, Mann and Rudd are so convincing as this married couple. Even though I felt that the film was running a little long during the third act, I was surprised to find myself teary eyed (not from boredom) by the end. The extra running time made them into real people, and their performances hit that point out of the park. Also impressive is the oldest Apatow daughter, who has a way with words and emotions at such a young age. And to no one’s surprise, Albert Brooks is perfect as a bitter old Jewish man.
Like every good project Judd has worked on, “This Is 40″ is special because of its great display of empathy. It makes us dislike our characters when they are acting based on their most flawed instincts, and it makes us like them when they overcome and change. By the end of the film, Pete and Debbie don’t necessarily change who they are, but rather they learn to embrace what they have, and what they can become. The greatest thing that can happen to an Apatow character is when they gain a sense of self-awareness.
As the film began, I almost thought I wasn’t watching an Apatow film. He has embraced a quieter, more artistic sense of filmmaking, which I am rather enjoying. The opening felt like a Wes Anderson film, but with less thick-rimmed glasses and Kinks songs. But even as Apatow changes, the best parts of his works doesn’t disappear. Even as Pete and Debbie battle financial troubles and deteriorating health, characters still manage to get into fights about “Lost” and “Mad Men” and talk about how they pee “like a shower head.”
The characters that Judd portrays are getting older and older as his career progresses, yet he luckily hasn’t abandoned his distinct style of humor. While it is called “This Is 40,” you don’t have to be that enjoy to enjoy this film. When you laugh at something as hard as I laughed at parts of “This Is 40,” there is no use in questioning it.
|If this scene doesn’t help “This Is 40″ earn over $100 million, then there is no hope for America anymore.